The Chicago Bears' emergency shift of Gabe Carimi begs a question, but perhaps not the one you're thinking. At some point, the Bears might have to address whether he can be a long-term answer at guard despite an atypical body type. More pressing, however, is whether Carimi has already demonstrated that he can't play tackle.
Carimi's embarrassing performance Nov. 19 against the San Francisco 49ers was the most visible evidence of what has been a season-long problem. In 10 starts this season, Carimi was by some measures one of the NFL's worst pass-blocking tackles. His reputation as a strong run blocker is well-earned, but a tackle who can't protect the edge at least most of the time will have a hard time staying on the field.
Pro Football Focus (PFF), which charts the result of each block for every game, has Carimi with 44 quarterback disruptions on 347 snaps as a pass-blocker this season. That figure includes seven sacks, 28 pressures and nine quarterback hits, and it qualifies him for the third-worst pass-blocking efficiency among NFL tackles this season.
"He is simply awful in protection," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "He gets beat with power, speed, you name it."
Sometimes a below-average pass-blocker can be protected if he moves to guard, but Williamson suggested that Carimi's 6-foot-7 frame could be a hindrance there.
"Being so tall on the interior is really tough when trying to get leverage against B.J. Raji/Vince Wilfork types," Williamson said. "If/when he plays high, NFL defensive tackles are going to totally walk him deep into the pocket. And now that liability is even closer to the quarterback than when he was at right tackle."
Carimi is expected to start at right guard Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, mostly because the Bears' options are limited. Two guards who have started games this season, Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal, won't play again in 2012. A third, Chris Spencer, has a knee injury that could sideline him for a week or two.
In the long-term, however, the Bears must decide whether a poor 10-game stretch is enough to render final judgment on a former first-round draft pick who has made a total of 12 NFL starts. My guess is Carimi will get another chance, especially considering how well he has blocked for the run.
Williamson said Carimi has been "an excellent run-blocker" and thus should still be considered a prospect with "starting right tackle abilities." PFF rates him third among all NFL tackles in run-blocking. As a right tackle in a run-based offense, Carimi doesn't have to be an elite pass-blocker. But he does need to be much better than he was this season.